Passport crisis has gone on for too long

By Joel Mandaza

Zimbabwe is facing a travel document crisis.

Presently, there is a backlog of passports which stems close to half a million.

The country`s inability to timeously provide the passports, has normalised in the minds of many but still remains a constitutional violation by the state.

Chapter 3 of the Zimbabwean constitution guarantees access to a passport as a right every citizen should enjoy.

This has not been the case on the ground, as the document has proven to be very hard to attain.

When all top government officials are sworn in, they promise to uphold the supreme laws of the land.

It is unnerving how the protracted failure to provide for a legally guaranteed document is happening in full glare of those who promised to defend the laws of the republic.

Who will ensure our constitution remains sacred?

Parliament has to come in and play its oversight role, they have to provide leadership.

Legislators guide government spending by approving budgets, one wonders why there is no special focus aimed at improving the situation.

Sometimes treasury needs to be handheld towards rationality, Parliament should observe if budget proposals by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development speak to the country`s immediate needs.

There is no rocket science on why there is a shortage of travel documents.

It is a money issue; the so-called special paper used to produce passports is imported.

With the prevailing foreign currency shortages, where basics like power, fuel and other key commodities compete for the same foreign currency, it is no surprise that passport provision has been relegated.

The fact that our government is economically dishonest does not help matters.

Right now, an ordinary passport whose original subsidised price was at US$53 is still at ZWL $53 even when the price of everything including salt has gone up.

The exchange rate is now at around 1:17 on the interbank market.

It does not make financial sense.

This has created opportunities for staffers at the Registrar General`s office who have slapped their own unofficial premium in US dollars.

A political decision is keeping passport prices unchanged even if it virtually means getting them is impossible.

In essence, government is impeding on the right to access passports through its refusal to adjust fees accordingly.

Their attempt to get the diaspora to offset the production of the outstanding passports by reintroducing remote applications for passport renewals is noble but unfair.

Why should people toiling outside the country be made to fund processes that a whole Registrar General is struggling to strategically finance?

Zimbabweans want the price of applying for a passport increased if it is going to result in the improved availability of the documents.

The country is burning, there are others who believe they can sustain themselves better in other countries, they should not be trapped in the country.

It should not come as a surprise that cases of child smuggling across Limpopo are said to be on the rise again as was the case in 2008.

People are getting desperate with each passing day.

The only way government can stop the looming mass exodus is through improving the economy and not making it difficult to acquire travelling documents.

In this light, all Parliamentarians, most of whom are currently in their constituencies resting because of the holidays must consult their people on what should be the way forward.

Democracy should be consultative, in a long standing situation like that of passports, there is need to go back to the people to seek solutions.

It is my belief there will be many who will be suggesting an increase in the cost of applying, if that becomes the case, then a purposive motion has to be moved.

One hopes Parliament does not, through its privilege, forget expectations that accompany their presence in the August house.

Although they no longer have to worry about passports since they were given diplomatic passports, the fight for ordinary Zimbabweans to get the same (humble) document has to remain alive.

If there was any semblance of conscience on the current leadership, the pressure on Parliament would be less as common decency would implore them to fix longstanding issues.

However, the current crop does not show empathy on matters which leaves Parliament as the sole conscience of society.

Their regular interactions with their constituencies should at least keep lawmakers in touch with issues.

Some of the Parliamentarians are well endowed and may be shielded from the daily realities faced by Zimbabweans but good leaders look beyond their own personal truths.

A drive past the passport office shows a country in desperation.

That should not be the case when the office is fully funded by the taxpayers.

If it is a money issue, an adjustment has to be effected, the economy is already in a free-fall authorities are fooling no one by maintaining the passport price at less than US$3 close to US$50 short of what it used to cost less than 2 years ago.

Conversations also need to start being directed towards finding local solutions and minimising imports.

Government said it is working towards ensuring number plates are manufactured locally instead of importing.

The same spirit has to be applied in the manufacturing of passports.

We need to ensure we find local ways of producing the passports to match acceptable international standards.

Not only can this reduce the backlog, but can also create a number of jobs along the value chain.

People are tired of Home Affairs` promises that they are printing thousands of passports a day, the agitations are growing.

Parliament has to act as a mediator between the public it represents and providers of a service people are crying for.





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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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